musings from Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington ... home of The Write Spot

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

when the hand is dust...

On a table beside my bed there's a burled walnut box full of treasures. Not jewels or gold. These treasures are all about family. In fact, the box itself is a treasure. Made for my great-grandmother as a Christmas gift in 1867, it has been passed down from mothers to daughters and, over the years, lovingly filled with little pieces of our history.

Noble Dickenson was my great-grandfather and this is his "Sundries Book". Leather-bound, with a little brass clasp, the book measures just 2 by 3-1/2 inches. Noble carried it with him from 1868 to 1870 as he travelled, worked, and saved for his future.

The earliest entries in the little journal are almost completely illegible now – time has taken its toll on the "indelible" pencil lead. Most of the readable entries are Noble's accounting records, income, expenses, and lists. But there are also moments of observation that bring his world to life. 

On March 29th, 1870, he wrote: "Noticed the first bluebirds of the year today on our way to split up an elm tree we felled in James Will's wood. Joe and I. No robins as yet observed." It must have been a long, cold winter in Norwichville, Ontario.

A month later, another interesting entry: "Notes of our journey to the States, April 22nd, 1870. Left Norwichville on the morning of the 21st. Roads in a [...] state with snow. Got into Woodstock at 1 o'clock same day. Had dinner or supper of carrots and started for Detroit in the night at 1 o'clock. Got into Windsor at 8 in the morning and crossed the river right away on the boat. Staw (sic) in Detroit until evening. Got tics. on the 5 […] for [ ....]  Willy rather cross. I thought vegetation in general was farther advanced than in Canada. From Detroit to G. Haven, from G. Haven to Muskegon, from Muskegon per [...] to Frankfort."

I believe Willy was Noble's brother William … and I'd probably be rather cross, too, if dinner after a long day of travel turned out to be carrots. Just carrots! (That can't be right, but the word sure looks like carrots to me.)

By June 25th of 1870, the brothers had arrived in the thriving metropolis of Muscantine, Iowa.

Muscantine engraving, 1865, Barber and Howe, Public Domain

Noble wrote, "Bought pants at Silvermans, Muscantine" and went on to list his purchases. Apparently I come by my love of shopping honestly – this is quite a list. It's quite a hefty expenditure, too, at a time when his earnings averaged 75 cents a day.

After his five month, 2500 km (1600 mile) journey, Great grandpa Noble Dickenson returned to Norwichville (now known as Norwich), Ontario where he served the town as Post Master until October of 1886. He married great grandma Margaret Gainfort on March 5th, 1871 and together they raised a family of nine – three boys and six girls. According to family lore, Noble and Margaret first met via telegraph, making theirs one of the world's first "online" romances.

I'm smitten. The ancestry bug has bitten and I'm feeling the pull to discover more secrets from the past. There are plenty of clues and starting places hiding in the little treasure box beside my bed, so stay tuned for more. (And, yes, I am writing a story about Noble and Margaret's telegraph romance. How could I possibly resist?)

What have you discovered about your family history?

Wondering where you've heard that before? The title of this post is a quote from My Autograph by Susanna Moodie (1803-1885):

"What—write my name!
            How vain the feeble trust,
            To be remembered
      When the hand is dust—"

stillpoint is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


At 11:52 am, Blogger Sandy Cody said...

Oh, Cheryl, this is indeed a treasure. Thanks for sharing it. I love old letters and journals. They are the real history of a family, the best portrait of a period in time.

At 4:24 pm, Blogger Fran McNabb said...

Yes, Cheryl, you certainly have a treasure by your bed. How wonderful to be able to "visit" ancestors through letters and journals. I, too, am fascinated by my family's past.

At 8:37 am, Blogger Joanne Guidoccio said...

Hi Cheryl, You're so fortunate to have all these family treasures. Enjoy!

At 4:05 pm, Blogger Cheryl said...

Thanks for reading, Sandy, Fran, and Joanne. I do feel very fortunate to have so much history in one little box. It's fascinating. I noticed after I posted that in his list of purchases, Noble mentioned getting a tooth filled for $1.48. Things sure have changed! (Although I'm willing to bet our modern fillings go in a lot less painfully!

At 12:40 pm, Anonymous Susan McNicoll said...

This is wonderful Cheryl. History in a box, what a joy to have. My dream has always been finding a box of old journals, letters etc. but it seems unlikely to ever happen. I hate the thought these items will not exist anymore as we store everything in computers with hard drives that will implode along with the history. At least I have a LOT of my maternal family history in a book written about it and a fair amount of Paternal material too. But one can never have enough. I love following as you talk about your family history.

At 6:32 pm, Blogger Cheryl said...

Thanks, Susan. I'm glad you're enjoying the saga. I agree, there's never enough. I wish my Mom and others had written names on the backs of some of the photos. There are some real gems but I have no idea who the people are! I guess that's a good reminder that we should all make sure there's an index of names with our digital files, too.

At 2:13 am, Blogger Sheila Seabrook said...

Oh wow, that's awesome to be able to read the journal of a relative from so distant in the past. No wonder you're hooked!

My brother is the gatherer of family history. He has quite an bit of data gathered, and now had backups of his backups of his backups so that he never has a double drive crash ever again. Yes, it happened, and he was crushed by the loss of his research.

At 11:38 am, Blogger Hema said...

This is treasure! I love reading anything old and handwritten :) This post comes at such a perfect time. I was reunited with my extended family from my maternal grandmother's side this weekend. I heard stories about my grandmother (who I've never seen) and what my mom was like as a child, stories about how my grandparents met and I'm taking it all in like a sponge to water!

Loved this post and thank you for providing us with pictures :)

At 11:46 am, Blogger Cheryl said...

Sheila, I worry all the time about how our digital world will survive if (when!) the unexpected but likely inevitable crash happens. So glad to have real world copies of at least some of my family history. Your brother's got the right idea with his multiple backups!

At 11:47 am, Blogger Cheryl said...

Hema, thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed reading about my ancestors. How lovely for you to be reunited with family. You not only heard stories, you make a new one to share with generations to come. Good to meet you!

At 10:09 am, Blogger Ruth Daly said...

So precious. I've always enjoyed looking through shoe boxes filled with old letters and photographs kept by my parents and grandparents. Such a treasure!

At 10:12 am, Blogger Cheryl said...

Thanks, Ruth. Definitely precious.


Post a Comment

<< Home